Libya’s long-divided parliament has approved an interim government that will oversee the run-up to elections in December, in a bid to bring an end to decades of turmoil.
After two days of debate, Libya’s parliament on Wednesday voted to approve Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah’s cabinet by 132 votes to two. The new temporary government will oversee preparations for the upcoming elections as part of a United Nations-facilitated process aimed at bringing peace to the fractured country.
“Libya has now a genuine opportunity to move forward towards unity, stability, prosperity, reconciliation and to fully restore its sovereignty,” said the UN support mission in Libya (UNSMIL) following the announcement.
The Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) has supported the work of UNSMIL in relaunching the political process in Libya, through facilitating agreements between the country’s main political actors in Montreux in September 2020 and the subsequent work of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).
“This is a welcome moment for the Libyan people after years of war and division. It is the first time the parliament has met to approve a unity government since the crisis began,” said David Harland, HD’s Executive Director in a statement. “It is now time to move swiftly towards elections.”
Libya has been wracked by conflict since the NATO-backed intervention that ended Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade rule in 2011. Since 2014, the country has been split between warring administrations in the west and east, backed by foreign powers: the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli, which is backed by Turkey, and the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Russia and Egypt.
Dbeibah was selected to lead the new interim government at UN-sponsored talks in Geneva last month, along with a three-member presidential council, during which the 75 members of the LPDF voted on leadership candidates. The UN-selected LPDF is made up of Libyans from different political backgrounds.
“Through this vote, it became clear that the Libyans are one unit,” Dbeibah told parliament after the announcement on Wednesday. “The time has come to turn the page on wars and division and to turn towards reconciliation and construction. It is time to settle the country’s differences in parliament and not on the battlefield.”
This week's session was the parliament's first full session after years of division between eastern and western factions. The vote was held in the city of Sirte, which was controlled by ISIS until 2017 and has witnessed some of the worst of the fighting during the conflict. A ceasefire agreed in Geneva in October has largely held in the country, however many roads remain inaccessible and foreign troops remain on the ground, contrary to the agreement's terms.
Both the GNA and the eastern-based LNA have welcomed the vote and said they were ready to hand power over to the new government, which will be sworn in next week. The UN hailed the move as a “historic day”, and the United States and European union welcomed the announcement, as did Turkey, Egypt and the UAE.
“This is a milestone toward the fulfilment of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum's Roadmap for an effective and unified interim Government of National Unity,” US secretary of state Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“A smooth and orderly transfer of authority to leaders elected by the Libyan people in these elections is critical to furthering Libya's democratic process.”
HD's MENA Director, Romain Grandjean, also underlined the need to maintain momentum in the run-up to December's elections. “Prime Minister [Dbeibah] will face many challenges in the coming months. We look forward to working with him as well as all other Libyan institutions and stakeholders to support the electoral process, and the peaceful transition of power,” he said in a statement.
Grandjean also welcomed the appointment of five women among the 31 government posts, including lawyer and human rights activist Najla El Mangoush as foreign minister - the first time a woman has held the role. Dbeibah had initially backtracked on promises that 30 per cent of ministerial posts would go to women but faced a backlash.
“We are delighted to see women have been nominated to key ministries, and hope that more women will be appointed to senior governmental positions as outlined in the roadmap agreed last November in Tunis,” he said.
However, allegations have been circulating that suggest Dbeibah had been selected by corruptly bought votes, with some delegates of the LPDF claiming colleagues were offered money. An official UN report on the matter is due to be published on 15 March.